PRFCT Perspectives

Tagged with "Habitat"

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This is part of a series with Gardenista, which ran on October 20, 2023.

Photo: A detail of a planting in the Bosque garden, designed by Piet Oudolf. Oudolf created a horticultural master plan for The Battery in 2004. Rich with texture, color, and fragrance, the gardens are filled with perennial and native plants designed to be enjoyed year round.

For two decades, The Battery has been a model for public parks and sustainable horticulture in New York City and beyond, proving that what we work toward at Perfect Earth Project is possible—and beautiful: You can plant drop-dead gorgeous landscapes for biodiversity. You can care for these perennial gardens, which are designed by a world-renowned designer, without any toxic chemicals—and do it for decades. You can create and plant a playground to handle floods from ever-frequent storms. You can nurture old-growth trees. You can grow an organic farm right in the middle of downtown Manhattan and use it to teach and feed people. You can do all of this while welcoming millions of people 365 days of the year—for free.

The powerhouse behind The Battery is Warrie Price, the founder of the nonprofit Battery Conservancy, which “designs, builds, maintains, and activates” the park. It doesn’t surprise me at all when autocorrect changes “Warrie” to “warrior.” She’s been a beloved and fierce advocate for conservation and sustainable horticulture for decades. “I think we have done an extraordinary project that began so small, but then really took off because how can you not want to keep making things beautiful?” she says. “At The Battery Conservancy, we like to say we’re ‘devoted to wow.’”

Price shares her thoughts about The Battery.

How did The Battery Conservancy begin? How did this park come to be the beloved place it is today?

I was asked by Betsy Barlow Rogers to create a nonprofit for The Battery. The park had a master plan created by landscape architect Philip Winslow, who sadly died before the project could begin. But Betsy said make sure you’re in accord with it, because if you can't visualize, if you can't be excited to implement it, then it’s going nowhere. The master plan is the skeleton of the park, the guidelines. But there was no horticulture, no horticulturist on the team at the time, no playground, no bikeway, no urban farm. Still, it provided the guidelines, and we review it every time we make a change in the park. After reviewing and embracing the master plan, I created The Battery Conservancy. We started with the promenade. We hired Piet Oudolf, who was not well known here at the time. He created a master horticultural plan. I think his genius is bringing the natural world into this romantic environment. In 2003, Piet first designed the Garden of Remembrance after 9/11 to honor those we lost, those who made it home safe that day, and those who would come later. It was created by private funding and a whole lot of volunteer hands. We’ve been able to enjoy them for 20 years, but they’re now about to go through reconstruction with the changes to the park. [Oudolf’s other contributions include the Bosque gardens, woodland plantings, and the bikeway.]

I think from the beginning, I wanted to make the park its own destination, not just a passageway. It was important to me personally because of its rich heritage.

What do you need for a successful garden?

When you’re planning a garden, whatever type it is, you need two things to ensure its success: authenticity and a program for how you’re going to use it. First, you have to be authentic to the landscape. Take the time to understand the history of the land, its topography, geography, and soil. Then, the second thing you need is a program, visualize how you’re going to use the space. If you don't have a program, if you haven't visualized how you want to be there, enjoy it and be a part of it, you're going to have a failed garden.

Why are public parks and gardens important to city life?

Beauty never stops healing the soul, and gardens are beautiful: green gardens, multi-color gardens—all plant life. Also, public parks and gardens in cities are unexpected, so they're cherished. They get people to stop because there is always something of interest happening, especially in a perennial garden. When you come to The Battery every week, you'll see the gardens change and evolve.

Our goal at The Battery is to enhance life mentally and physically. When you physically walk through the gardens, you interchange with nature. Mentally there’s a quiet sense of what beauty does to get your mind concentrating on something. That's an additive to good health and a good feeling versus dealing with the stress and the problems that surround you in a very urban setting.

Why was it important to be toxic-free from the start?

I learned a lot about conservation from Mrs. Johnson. [Price was college roommates with Lynda Johnson Robb, daughter of President and Lady Bird Johnson (or Mrs. Johnson as she called her), and lived at the White House for a time. She helped Lady Bird Johnson found the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, TX, where she is also a founding director.] When we started the Battery Conservancy, I always thought, no pesticides, no herbicides. We’re small. We can afford to pull our weeds ourselves. We can think of other ways instead of chemicals. For example, we’ll use integrated pest management like beneficial nematodes instead of toxic sprays. Nature has remedies if you’re knowledgeable. We worked with Rutgers to pick the best turf blend for the lawn we do have. We love our nitrogen producing clover in the lawn. The parks department found our perennial gardens to be much more economical than cutting hedges and mowing lawns all the time. We have a slogan: plant our parks. We want to set a standard for both public park design and maintenance. The gardens here are the essence of what the park is.

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Thanks to the efforts of Warrie Price and The Battery Conservancy, cracked and barren blacktop was transformed into a perennial haven planted for biodiversity and beauty—and always taken care of without toxic chemicals.

What are you doing for biodiversity?

We’ve been working with Audubon NYC and now have more birds in the park than ever before. We leave seed heads during the winter and have planted different types of ornamental grasses and habitat. We’re a destination for migratory birds. They're so beautiful, and they bring such life. We're also a Monarch Waystation [A habitat designated by Monarchs International that supports migration and reproduction of Monarch butterflies]. We’ve planted milkweed. They also feed on Agastache and other flowers as they make their way south. We’re feeding them along the way.

We have also decided to support our native bees as much as possible. We will no longer be hosting European honeybee hives in the park because we know our native bees need uninterrupted space for themselves. Bees are great communicators of life. They give hope when you see their populations increasing.

We want everyone to “leave the leaves'' instead of throwing them away. They fertilize the lawn and become habitat for insects during the winter. And then of course, we’re toxic-free. We cultivate everything—our urban farm, forest farm, all the gardens, lawn maintenance—without chemicals and always have. We can all be conservationists.

What are the challenges of having a public park during climate change?

The evolution of The Battery is always about change. We have to adapt to the garden’s needs—and those needs change. I would say every 20 years the needs must be re-evaluated and adapted. We certainly see this now.
For a thousand years, there has been the relationship of landscape to water. As I mentioned earlier, we’re about to go through some changes. The promenade is being totally rebuilt. It will be elevated six feet to handle rising sea waters from climate change. There will still be the Gardens of Remembrance, they’ll just be different. They will be more like embankment gardens because everything will be raised up high and you'll walk up to the promenade versus down to it the way you do now. We hope the project will be completed by 2026.

We recently completed a playscape, which was designed after Hurricane Sandy, to flood and recover. Instead of ignoring this flood prone area, we reimagined it for play. We want to be a model for waterfront flood prone areas all over the world. Come talk to us about creating bioswales and reserve tanks under climbing structures and climbing mounds. Ask us about designing with salt-tolerant plants that like wet soil. A couple of weeks ago when we had a deluge of rain from a storm, the playscape didn’t flood. We don’t want municipalities to leave these areas dormant. We've learned a lot. We're now able to share that knowledge with others.

For so long this park was all about water gazing, to paraphrase Melville, and now it's a landscape about learning. It's a landscape to impart so much knowledge through our gardens, through our biodiversity, through our birds, through our bees. They’re all telling great stories. I think about the evolution of how we are today, how our “learning landscape” has evolved through our programing. This transformation, these 30 years of designing and rebuilding, we now have this transformed landscape of 25 acres, and gardens and horticulture—no pesticides, no herbicides have been a huge part. We continually say no to things that were very much part of traditional park management.

Do you have a favorite time in the garden?

I love the beginning of the morning. The light is so magnificent because it reflects off the waters. But then the sunsets are fabulous, especially now. I also adore being by the fountain in the middle of a warm day. I watch all the children playing surrounded by plants—the coolness of the shade and the refreshing water sprays. I’m happiest when I see the way people interact with the garden—especially the children. I think, you know, it worked. The people make the programs come alive. We’re free to the public and open 365 days of the year, 24 hours of the day. And the impact is so much bigger than just us. It's so much bigger than downtown. It's so much bigger than any other park. Gardens are beautiful. You can never underestimate the power of beauty on mental and physical health.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Bosque

The densely planted gardens are magical in fall.

Photos: Courtesy of The Battery Conservancy

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This is part of a series with Gardenista, which ran on August 24, 2023.

Photo: Edwina von Gal doesn’t throw away anything from her garden. Clippings go into compost and any branches that fall or break from storms get turned into habitat piles that are embedded throughout her property on Eastern Long Island. She and her team love the process of knitting branches together to build this nest. “It’s meditative,” she says.

With all the recent storms and severe weather happening, it feels like we’re besieged with debris from trees and shrubs. Instead hauling it to the landfill, where it will just add to methane pollution, make something beautiful and beneficial out of it. In fact, keeping garden debris, or biomass (organic matter like branches, stems, and leaves), on your property is one of the principles of nature-based gardening we introduced in last month’s column with Perfect Earth Project. Brush piles offer protection to birds, like wrens, thrushes, and warblers, and other wildlife, like amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals. Leaf litter becomes homes for insects. And when biomass decomposes, it feeds your soil—for free!

There are artful ways to display biomass in your garden. Take a cue from Edwina von Gal, founder of Perfect Earth Project, who constructs striking sculptures out of debris gathered from her yard on Eastern Long Island. She’s woven branches through tree trunks, built walls out of logs, and knitted sticks together to create large nests. “Tailor the style of your habitat pile to the style of your garden,” she says. If your garden is tightly managed, create something more deliberate, recommends von Gal. On the other hand, if you have a meadow or loosely planted beds, like von Gal has in her garden, you can be freer in your construction.

At Chanticleer garden in Wayne, PA, assistant horticulturist Chris Fehlhaber constructs a habitat pile each year after the meadow is cut back in early spring. (He waits as long as possible to cut back the meadow with a scythe to allow for overwintering insects to emerge.) To craft the stack, Fehlhaber drives a wood stake in the ground and builds around it so that it’s sturdy and strong. “I start by creating a level base and then work around the pole in either a clockwise or counter-clockwise rotation to ensure there is plenty of overlap for strength, stability, and balance,” he says. He continues the process until all the material is used. “Then, I gather woody debris from the previous year and ‘top’ the stack with it, arranging the branches on top to create a well-balanced dome, which helps weigh the top down and sit it neatly around the pole.”

“Songbirds, insects, toads, and snakes have all been observed utilizing the stacks for shelter,” says Fehlhaber. He’s spied goldfinches using them to feed on seedheads in the meadow during fall and winter and to hide from predators, like red-tailed hawks. “The coarse nature of the stacks means there are many niches for birds and wildlife,” he says.

Channel your inner Andy Goldsworthy or Maren Hassinger (see her inspiring exhibit at LongHouse Reserve, made from branches gathered on the property), and create art from nature. “Think of every fallen branch you find or invasive shrub you cut down, as a new opportunity,” says von Gal. “Be creative and have fun.”

[Photos by Melissa Ozawa]

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Stack logs from fallen or diseased trees you removed to create walls or screens in your garden. They also provide habitat for native bees, chipmunks, and snakes. “Yes, you really do need snakes,” says von Gal. “They eat voles and other small critters, like white-footed mice, a primary vector of Lyme disease.” Here, a border of cutleaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata) thrives behind the wall.

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Instead of discarding the branches of non-native California privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium) she removed, von Gal wove them into the trunks of native Eastern red cedar trees (Juniperus virginiana).

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This beautiful nest of pinecones, needles, and branches will breakdown over time, feeding the soil.

Chanticleer Habitat Pile

Several years ago when I was at Chanticleer, the dreamy garden in Wayne, PA, I fell for this simple habitat pile tucked away in the meadow. Chris Fehlhaber builds each stack around a center post. As the stack settles, gaps form around the post. “Bumblebees use this gap to gain access to the interior of the stack, which is likely relatively well-sheltered and dry, to make their nests,” he says.

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Photo: Chris Fehlhaber
At Chanticleer, this habitat pile sits among spring-bloomers. “Today, the stacks are part of what I call a carbon positive approach to maintenance as no fossil fuels are used, ever, only gardener power,” says Chris Fehlhaber, who makes the stacks every spring.

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Photo by Chris Fehlhaber
In winter, Chanticleer’s graphic habitat stacks become snow-covered sculpture

Green Wood

We’re pleased to welcome The Green-Wood Cemetery as the latest partner in our Pathways to PRFCT program, a network of diverse public gardens and parks managed for health and well-being, beauty, biodiversity, and sustainability.

Located on 478 acres in Brooklyn, NY, this National Historic Landmark is a sanctuary in the city—for both humans and wildlife. Under a canopy of more than 8,000 trees, the cemetery is a resting place for luminaries such as artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, journalist and politician Horace Greeley, and the first Black woman doctor in New York, Susan Smith McKinney Steward. It’s also a cherished oasis of peace and beauty for New Yorkers and visitors alike, and thanks to a dedicated team of horticulturists, who are working to create a climate-resilient landscape, it’s a haven for birds and other wildlife, too. Birdwatchers flock there during spring and fall migrations.

As the horticulture team adapts to our changing environment, they’ve adopted four initiatives focused on trees, invasive insects, meadows, and grasses:

Green-Wood’s collection of trees showcases an array of native oaks, hickories, American beech, tulip, sweetgum, and sassafras trees (including one of the oldest and largest in New York state). To help protect these “veterans,” some of the oldest in Brooklyn, Green-Wood practices retrenchment pruning, which mimics a tree’s tendency to reduce its canopy as it matures. They are also diversifying their native tree population, and planting hundreds of bare-root trees, which tend to be stronger and healthier, more energy efficient, and easier to plant.

To further protect their trees, Green-Wood has joined forces with the US Forest Service, US Department of Agriculture, and New York State Department of Environmental Protection to identify and track invasive insects. The collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service led to a discovery of a new beetle species in 2019. The same genus as the emerald ash borer, this beetle feeds on stressed beech trees and trees of the Rosaceae family. Through their invasive insect scouting program they are taking steps to help safeguard our urban forests.

They are also actively converting acres of traditional lawn into native meadows, which provide food, shelter, and breeding ground for wildlife. Last year, they teamed up again with Larry Weaner and Associates (the firm has designed other meadows at the cemetery) to create more than an acre of “experimental memorial meadows.” Divided into six sections, each one is seeded with a different mixture of native grasses and wildflowers. The horticultural team will closely monitor the new expanse, collecting data on the life cycles of each plant species, the number and variety of weeds that appear, and note the overall aesthetic to “identify plant species and their combinations that thrive with minimal maintenance and do not obstruct the monuments.”

Climate change heavily impacts urban environments, causing higher temperatures, frequent extreme rainfalls, and longer periods of drought. As a result, the growing season for turfgrass is longer, which means more mowing, while invasive warm-season grasses are rapidly spreading. Working with experts in sustainable grassland management and turf at Cornell University, Green-Wood is incorporating new seed mixes with slower-growing and drought-tolerant varieties, adjusting the frequency and height of mowing, and reducing soil disturbance.

We look forward to following Green-Woods progress and learning from these and other initiatives.

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Green-wood’s urban grassland initiative focuses on 403 acres of turfgrass. Photo by Art Presson. Top Photo by Stacy Lock.

Wethersfield June E News

Perfect Earth continues to expand our Pathways to PRFCT program, a network of diverse public gardens and parks, managed for health and well-being, beauty, biodiversity, and sustainability. I’m happy to announce that Wethersfield Estate and Garden in Amenia, New York, is our newest partner. Conservation has been at the heart of the 1000-acre estate since it was established by the late Chauncy Stillman more than 80 years ago. He helped shape modern farming techniques by enhancing soil health, reducing soil erosion, and promoting water conservation. Today, the estate features an elegant Italianate garden with more than 20 miles of trails and over 400 acres of woodlands. Upholding that spirit of conservation, the horticulture team is now designing flower displays so there’s always something blooming for pollinators, planting more natives, especially keystone species, and removing invasives on the property. They’re also saving resources, limiting watering to establishing new plants and in times of drought, and retaining biomass on site. We’re especially pleased to welcome them because Perfect Earth's Toshi Yano helped revitalize this garden as their director of horticulture from 2019 to 2022, starting many of these methods. We hope you will visit to see the beautiful results of these nature-based practices.

Photo by Ngoc Minh Ngo.

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Founded by renowned textile designer, author, and collector Jack Lenor Larsen (1927-2020), LongHouse Reserve is a 16-acre integrated environment in East Hampton, NY, devoted to the ever-changing interactions between nature, art, and people. It has committed to toxic-free gardening and embraced nature-based practices and programs. LongHouse empowers visitors of all ages to see and think in new ways, and to incorporate art and design into their lives, invoking an ongoing act of creation in a healthy space.

LongHouse is reaffirming and energizing its commitment to embrace nature-based practices, offering a place for respite and recharging in a garden that will flourish without chemicals or harm to nature. Their pesticide-free lawns are healthier for their visitors and the environment. LongHouse also has a closed-loop system, keeping all biomass on-site—look out for stick piles and sculptures made of plant material. In addition, they are helping the community reduce stress and anxiety by offering special programs that help visitors reconnect with nature, such as forest bathing in quiet wooded areas and gentle yoga on clover-covered lawns.

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Photos by Philippe Cheng. Courtesy of LongHouse Reserve.

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